In this post, I continue my conversation about pick and pack fulfillment with Sharon Moore, operations supervisor at Iron Mountain’s Atlanta, GA, fulfillment warehouse and distribution center. In part one, Sharon discussed how warehouse organization and work practices affect pick and pack efficiency. Here she talks about the importance of technology and people in delivering outstanding service.
Debbie: Sharon, at the beginning of our conversation, you mentioned technology as one of four keys to accuracy and efficiency in our industry. Tell us why.
Sharon: Pick and pack fulfillment is a detail-oriented business. At our Georgia warehouse, our inventory includes more than 120,000 SKUs. Managing the receipt, storage, ordering, shipping, tracking and replenishment of those items would be impossible without technology.
As I mentioned earlier, we use bar codes, RF scanners and check-digit verification to log in, verify and track each item in our inventory in real time. All of this data and more is handled by our integrated warehousing and online inventory management system, which automates many of the important functions associated with fulfillment.
For example, the system notifies our staff when to move items out of pallets or boxes into open storage. It also sends an alert when stock is low and needs to be replenished. That prevents out-of-stock and backorder situations. And once an order is scanned at the shipping point, email notifications, inventory adjustments, charge-back data, shipping and routing, order confirmations and other notifications are all generated automatically.
Debbie: What other tools are available through the system?
Sharon: Clients have 24-hour access to the data and reports they need to analyze ordering and usage trends and make better decisions going forward. Our standard reports include order history, inventory levels, backorders, departmental charge-backs and more. They can also create their own reports and set the system to generate and email them automatically at specified intervals.
But that’s not all this system can do. It also offers clients access to more advanced tools and features when they’re ready to go beyond pick and pack.
Debbie: Such as?
Sharon: In addition to delivering their printed pieces by mail, our system can be programmed to automatically switch to electronic file delivery or print-on-demand when conditions demand – say, when stock is low.
Debbie: Digital printing – or print on demand – is another type of technology that’s playing an increasingly important role in the fulfillment industry, isn’t it?
Sharon: It is. It’s the perfect solution for clients who want to produce short runs of materials that aren’t used very often or pieces that change frequently. By printing just what they need at a given time, they eliminate storage costs and waste due to obsolescence.
Of course, it’s also great for variable data purposes, such as prepopulating names and addresses on forms or adding personalized touches to preprinted literature. Not to mention producing totally customized documents. Iron Mountain can create a digital library of documents, customizable templates and client-approved text and images, which users can access through our online order system. They get to exercise their creativity and design something that’s relevant to the audience they want to reach, while the system’s programming ensures that the documents they create adhere to company standards and any applicable regulatory requirements.
Debbie: So they get the best of both worlds. Sharon, that brings us to your last key ingredient of good fulfillment, which is personnel. Tell our readers how staff figures into the efficiency/quality equation.
Sharon: The actual work of picking, assembling, packing and shipping is done by people. It’s important to have well trained, experienced and motivated staff.
Toward that end, Iron Mountain screens hires carefully and makes sure they get the hands-on training and information they need to do their jobs well, day after day. We also have an award-winning incentive compensation system that helps us retain experienced personnel and motivate the highest levels of productivity.
When it comes to customer care, we assign each client their own dedicated account manager. This gives them one point of contact for all of the services we provide and any questions or concerns they may have.
Our account managers make it their priority to really get to know their clients. They work consultatively with their accounts to help them reach their business goals and provide regular strategic overviews of their fulfillment-related activities, complete with recommendations for process improvements and cost savings. They also stay on top of the day-to-day operations and make sure everything is running at peak efficiency.
Debbie: So we’ve come full circle. Is there anything else you want to add to wrap this all up?
Sharon: Just to reiterate that, in today’s fast-paced business environment, people expect to get what they want quickly. And they want it right the first time. So, whatever you’re sending out – literature, samples, product displays – it has to get there right away, in good condition.
Anything less can have a negative impact on your brand and your bottom line. So it pays to choose a fulfillment services company with the facilities, processes, technology, personnel and – I might add – commitment to be a real partner who can move your company forward in achieving its business goals.
Debbie: Well said. Thanks, Sharon. And, for those who haven’t done so yet, be sure to take our video tour.